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Medical Units of 2 NZEF in Middle East and Italy

Castelfrentano Reached

Castelfrentano Reached

By last light on 30 November the infantry were about four miles north of the river and approaching Castelfrentano. The ADSs received orders to follow up, and at half past five next morning B Company, 6 Field Ambulance, moved forward, crossed the river, and set up again outside another farmhouse on the ridge above the north bank. It was a bleak, exposed position. The men dug in, working in a high, cold wind and driving rain. Throughout the day a few casualties were carried in, and were treated and sent on to 4 MDS.

During the day B Company, 5 Field Ambulance, moved across the Sangro and set up again on a cart track on the northern bank, about three miles east of the main road to Castelfrentano. There were dogfights overhead as the company was crossing the Bailey bridge, and one German aircraft came crashing down.

Batteries of artillery, sited a short distance to the rear of 6 ADS, were firing over the dressing station, and every report seemed to slam against the canvas of the shelters. At times enemy aircraft page 323 bombed the gun positions, but it was apparent that the pilots made every effort to avoid the Red Cross.

At 7 a.m. on 2 December, 24 Battalion entered Castelfrentano, and by twenty minutes past eight the town was cleared of enemy troops. At midday 6 ADS packed up equipment preparatory to moving forward. While the company waited, about 20 German fighters passed overhead and again bombed the bridge. Again they failed to hit it. An hour later the company moved up the winding road to Castelfrentano and established the ADS in the school, a strong, three-storied building of modern construction. 5 ADS was now about a mile and a half south-east of the town.

Clustered on the highest point of a range of hills, Castelfrentano was in full view of enemy-held Orsogna, which lay to the north-west, sprawled along the top of the next ridge. Consequently, black-out precautions had to be rigidly observed. The largest building in the town, the school, towered above the surrounding houses, and on arrival 6 ADS set to work nailing blankets over its rows of blown-in windows.

The infantry were advancing across the valley beyond, and throughout the afternoon and night casualty-laden, mud-plastered jeeps and ambulance cars moved in and out of the school yard. The artillery had moved up into the valleys on either side of the town, which rocked to the gunfire when, at first light on 3 December, 6 Brigade made an unsuccessful attempt to advance through Orsogna. The enemy appeared to be determined to hold the village and ridge at all costs.

Castelfrentano was frequently shelled during the days that followed, and many civilians were injured. The ADS invariably admitted and treated them, though orderlies and medical officers had their hands full with the stream of casualties from the forward units. Familiar as they were with shocking injuries and death, the men were moved to pity at the sight of wounded and bewildered children who could not understand the disaster that had overtaken them.

Patients were evacuated down the main road to the Bailey bridge. It was a good route, given good conditions; but the Sangro was rising again, and ambulance cars were often delayed by traffic jams and mud. Despite the fact that patients were transferred at the A page 324 Company, 6 Field Ambulance car post, under Capt H. S. Douglas,5 on the south bank, ambulance cars were away for three and four hours at a time on each trip. By nightfall on the 3rd the approach to the Bailey bridge had so deteriorated that it was practically impossible to cross in darkness. One driver took through a load of abdominal cases urgently needing surgical attention, but the remainder of the casualties were kept at the ADS until morning. With further rain on the 4th, the Bailey bridge was out of reach by midday.

5 Maj H. S. Douglas, MBE; born Hamilton, 26 Sep 1906; Medical Practitioner, Pukekohe; Medical Officer Maadi Camp Hosp Jan-Aug 1942; 6 Fd Amb Aug 1942-Dec 1944.